Battlefield 1 with 64 players feels like carnage incarnate. That's what I gathered from my first real assault, attacking an objective located in the middle of a small desert village. Machine guns fire from the mountains and anti-tank launchers on bipods pump round after round into the approaching mass of tanks and horses. I'm not bothered. I'm flying overhead, my bomber dropping bombs that dig craters into the earth itself, giving the approaching infantry cover for their approach.
I have no idea what I'm doing and, for the first time since Battlefield 3, I'm having fun.
World War 1 was perhaps an odd choice for EA's premier 'shootyman' franchise, but recent years have shown that people are tired of modern first-person shooters. People crave something new and while Call of Duty looked to the far future and now the stars, Battlefield, unable to dip its toe into science fiction lest it competes with publisher EA's other big shooter this year, Titanfall 2, has taken a trip back in time instead. But can The Great War make a great game?
The entire experience feels more cut back at this stage – there are no squad bonuses, no frantic charges through bombed out apartment blocks. Sinai Desert is exactly that, a chunk of desert, with small buildings jutting out of the sand to provide impromptu firing platforms for those lucky enough to make their way inside. Most of the time though, you're stomping around the dunes, looking for approaching enemies on the horizon.
The destruction from Battlefield's latest iterations is still present and correct, meaning most human-made cover isn't a real issue. If you're getting harassed by a sniper you can deal with the problem by demolishing his cover to force him out into the open. You'll see a lot more wannabe marksman now, too, as both snipers and medics now have access to bolt action rifles.
This isn't an entirely accurate vision of the first world war, but nonetheless, long range automatic weaponry hasn't been invented yet, and as a result the gameplay feels a little slower. Players at range are taking their time to pick shots as they scurry around the desert like Star Wars' Jawas, while assault players have shotguns and sub-machine guns, meaning if they get up close you'll get shredded.
There's a lot of different weapons on show, and this gameplay demo at Gamescom 2016 didn't attribute stats to all of them, but the attachment system from Battlefield 3 and 4 is gone. In its place, each gun has three configurations that give it different strengths and weaknesses.
The most exciting thing of playing Battlefield 1 for me was the return of moments of pure spectacle, Battlefield moments that come from all of the games systems working together. The first came when I was flying a bomber, and an enemy fighter flew up from below me, cannons blazing. I was instantly disabled and on fire, but I had one final middle-finger to give: The heavy bombs strapped to my undercarriage. I dropped them and we exploded together, a glittering explosion and, in my case, a well deserved triple kill to tide me over until respawn.
Then there was the time I rode a horse alongside a tank, cutting down infantry with a sabre before tossing an anti-tank grenade into the side of the tank, destroying its tracks and leaving it briefly stranded. Two seconds later, someone hit my horse with an anti-tank launcher, killing me instantly.
The horse was fine.
The vehicles were getting a lot of attention in our hands on, with groups of horses riding to objectives, the clunky tank putting out 360 degrees of death as it rolled across the battlefield. There's also three different types of plane – attack planes, fighters and bombers – but all of the vehicles pale in comparison to the map-destroying power of the Behemoths. There will be 3 Behemoths in the final game – an airship, a battleship and a train – and they're not even slightly balanced. This is on purpose, as when this falls into control of the enemy team, the idea is that everyone unites to take it out.
In the desert, the Behemoth is the train, and it runs on tracks from one end of the map to another, with each carriage of the train having access to a different, yet still ridiculous, weapon ranging from an airburst AA gun which destroys plans in a few shots or a giant cannon to blast tanks to pieces. It's a monster, and represents a huge amount of firepower that developer DICE us putting in the hands of players.
If there was one sour note from the session, it's that the Battlefield series can never live up to the cinematic promise of its trailers. It plays well and it's definitely better than Battlefield Hardline, but the same old Battlefield problems are present – sometimes you'll walk for a few minutes without seeing anyone, often you'll be taken out from a hundred meters away by someone you never even saw.
You can't really know how a Battlefield title will play out until it launches and players start to find the best weapons and most exploitable locations. Battlefield games – much like those of its cousin franchise Call of Duty – don't really come together until the community embraces them.
There's an open beta at the end of the month which will go a long way to getting players enthused about the game, but for now at least, I'm looking forward to it. They seem to be using World War 1 as a way to shake up the established formula, and it's hard not to be enthused about a game that's this much fun to play.